There is a tendency to accept, almost without question, the current situation in regard to the relationship between schools and governments in our culture. Though matters vary from state to state regarding the details, the general situation is this: state governments own most of the primary grades through secondary grades schools. Private schools are allowed, but they are subject, in various degrees, to control by government. This means, typically, that everyone must pay for the government’s schools, whether you use them or not. It also means that if you decide to offer a private alternative, you will usually have to do so within the dictates of your state government’s education laws and bureaucracy.
Most people tend to think that many of the government’s schools could use some improvement, but they don’t really object to this whole system. I think this is just because this system has been around for the lives of everyone living today, and we just haven’t thought about how contrary it is to what I will call the American spirit of liberty.
So I offer a little analogy. I am going to ask you to imagine that something parallel to government ownership of schools had happened in another area. (Had there been a Horace Mann of food, there is no reason why things could not have turned out this way.) See how this strikes your sensibilities in regard to liberty, and then try to think why these same sensibilities should not apply to schools.
Imagine an alternative world in which every state has a Department of Nutrition. Because of the great importance of proper nutrition to the functioning of a free society (I’m suppressing laughter now, but try to ignore that) most people had been convinced that governments must assure everyone of proper and sufficient nutrition.
To accomplish this, governments put into place local Nutrition Boards with the power to tax the citizens in their districts to accomplish their goals. These boards own farms, food processing facilities, and grocery stores. These have come to be called the Public Stores.
Everyone, from the poorest of the poor to the richest of the rich have a legal “right” to visit the Public Stores and pick up at little or no additional cost their nutrition allotment for the week. While there are some choices at the Public Stores, you do not shop at will as you might for your clothing, for example. (And there are a few nuts running around asking why we don’t do with groceries what we do with clothes, but who listens to such maniacs?) The Public Stores are required by law to deliver a certain, state-approved diet to the public.
While the food from the Public Store is not always horrible (though sometimes it is), it is generally not very desirable. It will keep you alive, of course. But variety is very limited, and quality is usually lacking.
In this society, it is still possible to supplement your Public Store diet, or even replace it. But you must continue to pay those taxes earmarked for the Public Store whether you eat from the Public Store or not, and these taxes are quite substantial.
Some people have little home gardens. Others get together and form little food co-operatives that create their own little farms and private grocery stores. These efforts often produce better food that the Public Stores, but not many people engage in these efforts. Since they are taxed for the Public Stores, they just eat what they get from there and work hard to pay the taxes that go to the local Food Boards.
It is well-known that most of the little private gardens and food co-ops produce much tastier food at much lower prices than the Public Stores. Part of the reason for this is that there are Public Store workers’ unions that are politically powerful, and can often get their way in the Public Stores. For example, the National Nutrition Association (a powerful Public Store Union) tends strongly toward vegetarianism, so they have pushed the Public Stores toward offering less and less meat. Most people want more meat. They sometimes lobby the state government and the local Food Board, but usually with little success. They are very busy working to pay their local Food Board tax, but the NNA members are well-organized and ever-present to press their demands at the state government and local Food Board.
This has led to some people trying to raise their own beef cattle, pigs, and chickens. Here and there you see a private field with livestock. In fact, this trend started to grow as the Public Stores, at the insistence of the NNA, offered less and less meat in the weekly food allotments.
The NNA took notice of this very quickly. They had endless objections to the private production of meat. What if these untrained people contaminated it? What if too many people tried to raise their own livestock - think of the problems that could cause. But most importantly, what if people began eating too much (as determined by the NNA) meat?
So, due to the influence of the NNA, most states have very strict laws about who can raise livestock, and who can consume the livestock that is raised. Often, you can raise a limited amount for your own use, but you cannot sell it or even give it away without the approval of the state Department of Nutrition Management. The content of what private food co-ops may produce and consume is carefully regulated by law, mostly because of the tireless efforts of the NNA.
Of course, the food available at some local Public Stores is better than others. But states are divided into Nutrition Districts. You must prove you live in a particular Nutrition District to use the Public Stores in the that district. So people who are able to do so sometimes move to what they think is a better Nutrition District. Property values are even connected to the Nutrition District in which the property is located.
When some upstart questions this system, there is a battery of standard answers to such questions. Who would supply food if not for the Public Stores? Wouldn’t people starve without the efforts of the Nutrition Boards? And if people could simply buy and eat whatever they want, who would make sure they were eating the right foods?
So the Public Food System goes on. There have been many massive reform efforts offered for the Public Stores. Some states have even adopted some of these. But when the “reform” is in place, that basic system is never changed. Governments still produce and distribute food, controlling what most people eat in the process. And private alternatives remain highly regulated. So in the end, most people do not get the food they really want, but they have learned to live with that situation.
Stop imagining - stop it! Ask yourself a question: is there anything wrong with this imagined world? Do you not find it repulsive both practically and ethically? Is it not long past time to take the “public” out of schools?